The pigment plays multiple roles in biology, says Radames J.B. Cordero, PhD, a research associate in Molecular Microbiology and Immunology. “A lot of organisms use melanin to capture heat from the environment. It is very good at absorbing electromagnetic radiation,” says Cordero. With a seed grant from the Bloomberg School Technology Development Accelerator Fund, Cordero and his collaborators have isolated melanin from fungi and begun exploring its properties and potential applications. Soon, they will be able to test how well melanin will hold up in space. NASA will send Cordero’s samples—in the form of fungal melanin composite discs—to the International Space Station in late October.*Part of the Materials International Space Station Experiment, Cordero’s melanin discs will also reveal melanin’s shielding ability against radiation and whether it’s more effective than lead at protecting satellites and electronics. “The goal will be to take melanin and create biomaterials inspired by nature,” Cordero explains. “We’re seeing if we can mimic biology and learn from biology to our benefit.”Researchers also expect it the fungus will be a more cost-effective “biofactory” for melanin and lower its cost. This could open the door to melanin being used for other medically protective purposes. After isolating a powdered form of melanin from the fungus, it was embedded in plastic polymers. The resulting material will also be tested for its structural stability and its ability to withstand the environment of outer space.The study take at least several months, and Cordero expects to receive experimental data from the ISS beginning in the middle of next year. He has two additional NASA studies that will take shape over the coming months, with the next study scheduled to launch to the ISS sometime next year.